Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Communications Medicine Privacy Wireless Networking Science

Ask Slashdot: Are Smart Meters Safe? 684

Posted by timothy
from the call-on-your-cell-phone-to-find-out dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There is a lot of controversy and a big hullabaloo about Southern California Edison and various other utilities around the country installing smart meters at residential homes. Various action groups claim that these smart meters transmit an unsafe amount of RF and that they are an invasion of privacy. The information out there seems rather spotty and inconsistent — what do you engineers out there think? Are these things potentially harmful? Are they an invasion of privacy?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Are Smart Meters Safe?

Comments Filter:
  • by xaxa (988988) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:09PM (#40529249)

    In Europe, they're being investigated as a privacy issue:

    Hi-tech monitors that track households' energy consumption threaten to become a major privacy issue, according to the European watchdog in charge of protecting personal data.

    The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has warned that smart meters, which must be introduced into every home in the UK within the next seven years, will be used to track much more than energy consumption unless proper safeguards are introduced.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/01/household-energy-trackers-threat-privacy [guardian.co.uk]

    • by yodleboy (982200) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:35PM (#40529709)
      Wait a sec. How is it a privacy issue for the utility provider, that already knows how much power you consume, to use a smart meter? Help me out here.

      Anecdotaly... As a multiple time sufferer from mis-read meters and the pain in the ass that results from convincing the power company to believe that you really didn't use 10000 KW/h last month when you've been average 1500 KW/h for years I love that my usage is precisely monitored and measured. I also get some cool features like email alerts if my usage spikes, the ability to see my projected bill ahead of time and make adjustments to my usage in advance, and I can compare my usage to other houses in the neighborhood. That last however DOES NOT IDENTIFY THE HOUSES. All I see is "your usage is x% more/less than similar size houses this week".
      • The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has warned that smart meters, which must be introduced into every home in the UK within the next seven years, will be used to track much more than energy consumption unless proper safeguards are introduced.

      • that's all you see. what do they see?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by yodleboy (982200)
          i repeat the question. Why does it matter? Come on here's a list of all the information my current electricity provider ALREADY HAS ON FILE FOR ME: Name, Address, Social Security number, Drivers License number, credit score and probably history at time of account opening. I could go on. How is a detailed analysis of my power usage more of a privacy issue than all that deeply personal information I was required to provide to start service? Just what private information is this smart meter supposed to b
          • by noc007 (633443) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @02:16PM (#40531429)

            They can see your usage in real time. Depending on how accurate it is, they can determine when you turn on a light, TV, computer, etc and perhaps determine the make and model of them. Some argue that they can determine when you're at home or not. Law enforcement can be notified when it looks like you just started a grow farm.

            With a "dumb" meter, they just know your usage over a period of about a month. With a smart meter, they can gain massive insight into a residence's power usage which some consider a violation of privacy, information that could be sold, a possible method for a criminal to check when the place is not occupied, and/or another avenue for law enforcement to overstep existing boundaries.

      • by Macman408 (1308925) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:53PM (#40530061)

        I think the idea is that, with a smart meter, the utility can tell when you consume that power, and what the incremental steps are. For example, you could probably figure out when the occupants wake up, go to bed, turn on the computer, turn on the TV, turn on your marijuana grow lights, etc. The article lists some other things such as "whether someone uses a specific medical device or baby monitor" that I find somewhat dubious, but within the realm of possibility, especially if they have a particularly unique way of using power (the wattage used, and the duty cycle, for example - more likely with a medical device than a baby monitor, though).

        That said, it's not a reason to not adopt the technology, which can bring a wide variety of benefits, as you mention. It *is* a reason to pass legislation to control who can access that data and under what circumstances, if you feel that it is likely to be mishandled.

    • by Bengie (1121981) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:29PM (#40530727)
      My local water company has switched over to smart meters for water usage. Now that they have pseudo-realtime flow information, they have reduced their operations costs by about $200k/year and my water will has gone down because of reduced rates.

      The more information engineers have access to, the more efficient the system.

      If we EVER want to have massive roll-outs of green energy, we'll need smart meters. Fuck green, lets burn coal until we die, I don't want someone seeing how much power I use.

      What we do need is rules stating that the information collected must be securely accessed and transmitted. Possibly limit collected data to just stuff like average power-draw, local voltages, highest burst, standard deviation.. stuff like that.

      They don't need to know what exactly what I'm running, just a category of power demand.
  • by Worchaa (774320) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:12PM (#40529287)
    I'll be these folks lodged some of their complaints over a mobile phone. And none of them use garage door openers, or keep track of their kids at the mall using FRS radios... argh. If they don't like the idea of remote meter reading, fine-- that's one thing, and a valid discussion to be had. But unsafe RF levels ? Are you KIDDING me ?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:21PM (#40529453)

      Yeah. Anytime someone asks engineers what they think regarding "dangerous RF", 9 out of 10 responses fall in the range from "No, let me explain how it compares to all these other things you use every day, including sunlight, and about photon energy and how that differentiates visible~radio waves from ionizing radiation" to "STFU you bleeding idiot, read a grade-school science text!". And the remaining one will be blathering on about how he works at a megawatt-class radio transmitter which can absolutely kill you if you stand to close due to the high E field, therefore would everyone STFU about wavelength being the only significant parameter. (Because what would /. be without pedants pointing out things clearly unrelated to the current case that nevertheless make the conventional knowledge technically inaccurate?)

      You'd think at some point they'd get tired of asking us...

  • Radiation hazard? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:12PM (#40529297)
    Not only is there no evidence that these meters are harmful, but the effect of radio frequency exposure upon living tissue (approximatly none) is well-studied and understood. These radiophobes have about as much scientific respectability as the anti-vaxers, homeopaths and creationists. They are a parody of science.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#40529383)

      Not only is there no evidence that these meters are harmful, but the effect of radio frequency exposure upon living tissue (approximatly none) is well-studied and understood. These radiophobes have about as much scientific respectability as the anti-vaxers, homeopaths and creationists. They are a parody of science.

      Hey you asshole, VMS was a fine OS for its day, show some respect ;-)

    • by awilden (110846)

      These radiophobes have about as much scientific respectability as the anti-vaxers, homeopaths and creationists.

      Oh come on, I can't think of anyone who has been pro-VAX since the late 80s. To be criticizing luddites at the same time that you're supporting a classic mini-computer architecture is more than a bit hypocritical...

    • Re:Radiation hazard? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:00PM (#40532009) Homepage

      An important subsection of radiophobes are those that are afraid of EMF radiated from transmission lines. These folks have successfully tied in knots the idea of running transmission lines anywhere near residential areas. They are able to be successful in blocking such construction because they pretty much sit and argue in a reasonable-sounding manner until the utility gives up. High voltage transmission lines have been accused of being responsible for cancer, impotence, warts, and just about every other thing that affects humans, except for government deficit spending.

      Anyone that believes the US will be rewired with a new grid system hasn't run into these people. New transmission lines will not be coming to an area near you. Existing transmission lines will be taken down should any sort of permit be required to update them.

      Last I heard about this was a utility in New York was desperate enough to consider running a new transmission line through a lake so that nobody would see it and it wasn't near anyone's house.

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:13PM (#40529305)
    Can you editors please present the article submitted with a decent summary and leave off the inflammatory questions tagged onto the end? This trend has been getting worse as time goes on...and the answer to these questions is usually the same: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines [wikipedia.org]
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:14PM (#40529321) Homepage

    > Are these things potentially harmful?

    They are every bit as dangerous as cellphones.

    > Are they an invasion of privacy?

    Of course. They are telling the power company how much electricity you are using. What business is that of theirs?

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:27PM (#40529563)

      > Are they an invasion of privacy?

      Of course. They are telling the power company how much electricity you are using. What business is that of theirs?

      While it's definitely the power company's right to know how much power I'm using, and even to know in aggregate how much peak versus non-peak power I'm using, but they really shouldn't need to know hour by hour or minute by minute (or even day by day) how much power I'm using.

      They already have instrumentation at the substations that tells them how much power my neighborhood is using so they know how much power to generate, they don't need to know when I'm doing laundry, when I go to work, when my house is vacant because I'm on vacation, etc.

      • by mr1911 (1942298) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:35PM (#40529707)

        While it's definitely the power company's right to know how much power I'm using, and even to know in aggregate how much peak versus non-peak power I'm using, but they really shouldn't need to know hour by hour or minute by minute (or even day by day) how much power I'm using.

        They already have instrumentation at the substations that tells them how much power my neighborhood is using so they know how much power to generate, they don't need to know when I'm doing laundry, when I go to work, when my house is vacant because I'm on vacation, etc.

        Yeah, it is obvious the power company in intent on stealing secrets about your laundry habits rather than trying to balance infrastructure cost and capability.

        Those sons-a-bitches should quit trying to provide you with better service and let you live in peace. Call and tell them to disconnect you from the grid altogether. Install PV on your roof and keep those nosy power company bastards at bay!

      • by plover (150551) * on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:19PM (#40530561) Homepage Journal

        While it's definitely the power company's right to know how much power I'm using, and even to know in aggregate how much peak versus non-peak power I'm using, but they really shouldn't need to know hour by hour or minute by minute (or even day by day) how much power I'm using.

        Actually, this is the entire idea behind the smart grid. The data is not for them to know how much to generate - as you pointed out, they already know that. The idea is to charge you more for the electricity that costs them more to generate. Not all power is generated equally cheaply. On a hot day with lots of A/C usage, they have to bring emergency generators on line. These burn very expensive fuels, such as natural gas, and cost them 10 times as much as the electricity generated by the much cheaper coal fired plants. They want to bill you a lot more for the times they're forced to bring those extra generators on line, because if they charge you more, you might change your mind about consuming electricity that's so expensive to produce. So the smart grid will use consumer demand to reduce their need to supply.

        The smart meter's job is two-fold. One task is to record your usage depending on the rate. The other is to transmit the rates to your smart household appliances. This would be messages like "the current non-peak rate is $0.16/kWh" or "the peak rate from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM will be $3.25/kWh." If you have smart appliances that can read these messages, they can make their own decisions. You might configure your clothes dryer to run only when electricity is cheaper then $0.50/kWh, for example, meaning it would shut itself off during the really expensive peaks. Or you might configure your water heater to hold 140 degrees at $0.35/kWh rates, but 110 degrees at rates above that. This would give you the ability to make your own choices about placing peak demands on the power grid. You would think about if you really need 50 gallons of 140 degree hot water at 5:00 in the afternoon if it's going to cost you $7.00 extra per day.

        The idea is simple: get people to cooperate to consume less energy. They've proven they won't do it for the environment, but they will do it for money.

        • by eth1 (94901)

          If you have smart appliances that can read these messages, they can make their own decisions. You might configure your clothes dryer to run only when electricity is cheaper then $0.50/kWh, for example, meaning it would shut itself off during the really expensive peaks. Or you might configure your water heater to hold 140 degrees at $0.35/kWh rates, but 110 degrees at rates above that. This would give you the ability to make your own choices about placing peak demands on the power grid. You would think about if you really need 50 gallons of 140 degree hot water at 5:00 in the afternoon if it's going to cost you $7.00 extra per day.

          The one I'm waiting for is being able to tell an electric car to charge overnight at $0.10/kWh, and discharge into the grid at $0.20/kWh on-peak when I get home from work. If you apply the "what if everyone did that?" test to that, it would really kill the usage peaks the power companies have to deal with now.

    • They are every bit as dangerous as cellphones.

      People use them while driving?

  • ... I wouldn't want a remote-controllable power switch to be available to 3rd parties, authorities and who knows who else. Electricity is vital and this is just another vulnerability someone might exploit or use to control / blackmail me.
  • Water (Score:5, Informative)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:16PM (#40529357)

    Our water meter was just replaced with a digital one that transmits to the Powers That Be. I thought it was pretty cool. The display has a photo sensor so it only comes on when you shine a flashlight on it (it's in the basement). Our reported monthly water usage is also lower since we got the new meter... I can only assume it's more accurate.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:17PM (#40529367)

    Under CISPA, if it passes the Senate, the government can see any private corporate record it desires. Including your smartmeter electrical usage.

    Even without CISPA, governments or govt-controlled utilities at the state level have passed laws mandating rolling blackouts. So your A/C could suddenly shutoff and you'd get nice and toasty. (I prefer dumb meters that *I* control without any communication back to the central entity.)

    • by geekoid (135745)

      What a bunch of nonsense.

      Why would a government want to see your smart meter usage? please.
      and if you are having a rolling black out, the type of meter doesn't fucking matter, it's a black out.

      What the could do is smarter brownouts. Hell, if the Electrical company spent the money and considerable time, it could implement a system that shuts off electricity to everything BUT your AC during a brownout.

      Why do you think you control your meter? You don't, it's not your property.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Ease up on the tinfoil. The mean ole gubmint isn't instituting rolling blackouts just to fuck with you. Rolling blackouts are used to prevent overloading of power plants, since the alternative would be a full blackout. And they can shut off power to your house regardless of whether you're using a smart meter.

      If anything, smart meters will prevent rolling blackouts by helping utilities better forecast power demand.

  • Shielding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ktappe (747125) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#40529385)
    Serious question: If you wrap your smart meter in tinfoil (or for purposes of this argument) lead, what happens?
  • by szyzyg (7313) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#40529395)

    I remember reading one news story where a property owner was saying he considered anyone coming onto his property to be a violation of his rights and might shoot someone from the power company if they tried to install a smart meter. I wish I could have asked him how the power company reads his meter right now?

    Stupidest person ever.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      I remember reading one news story where a property owner was saying he considered anyone coming onto his property to be a violation of his rights and might shoot someone from the power company if they tried to install a smart meter. I wish I could have asked him how the power company reads his meter right now?

      Stupidest person ever.

      My power company reads my (non-smart) meter from the public sidewalk through a small window in the side of my house that's there specifically for the gas and electric meters. No need to enter my property.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        But they have the right to enter you're property with any work dealing with their meter.

        And most people the person enters their property.

    • Re:Trespassing.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by captaindomon (870655) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:36PM (#40529717)
      This property owner fellow needs to do more research on easements, encumbrances, and fee simple property titles. Property ownership is not as simple as most hillbillies think it is.
    • Re:Trespassing.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by jklovanc (1603149) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:40PM (#40529833)

      Most, if not all, electricity contracts which are required to receive service have clauses in them that allow the utility to access their property. Here is the one for British Columbia [bchydro.com].

      9.5. Access to Premises
      BC Hydro's agents and employees shall have, at all reasonable times, free access to the equipment supplied with Electricity, and to BC Hydro's meters, wires and apparatus on the Customer's Premises, for the purpose of reading meters and testing, installing, removing, repairing or replacing any of BC Hydro's equipment, and to ascertain the quantity or method of use of service and the amount of Electricity consumed. If access to meter rooms or other locations where BC Hydro equipment is installed is restricted, the Customer shall supply BC Hydro with lockbox keys or other keys or means of access as may be necessary to provide BC Hydro with ready access to those locations. In no case will BC Hydro accept keys to private residential Premises.
      If free access to BC Hydro's equipment on the Customer's Premises is denied or obstructed in any manner, including by debris, unsafe walkways or other means of access, or the presence of animals, and the Customer does not remedy the problem upon being requested by BC Hydro to do so, service may be suspended and not reconnected until the problem is corrected;

      Basically if the property owner does not let BC Hydro install a smart meter (it falls under "replacing any of BC Hydro's equipment") the electrical service can be cut off. No access, no electricity.

    • by plover (150551) *

      Serious answer: if they can't access the meter during a trip (common enough around here during snowstorms, or if there's a dog in the yard), they estimate usage based on the account's consumption history. If they are prevented from taking an actual reading from the meter for long enough, they would contact him and request him to allow them access to the meter. If he failed to cooperate, they would disconnect him at the pole and terminate his service - you grant them access to the meter when you sign up fo

  • At least one of the major brands of Smart Meter use Zigbee radios. Hardly what I'd consider unsafe.
  • I have a really awesome aluminum hat that protects me from the meters as well as other government mind control efforts. Everyone should have one.
    http://zapatopi.net/afdb/ [zapatopi.net]

  • Given the amount of TV signals, cell phone signals, microwave Telecom signals, police, fire, ambulance, taxi radios, the cummulatinve radiation of millions of electronic goods, the RF from the power lines themselves, is the addition of a smart meter really going to make a difference? Or is this just a cynical way by people who oppose them to get the public to rally against smart meters.
  • 1. The power company (very likely) already knows your power consumption habits. Lots of meters send automated reads every 15 minutes anyway. This is not new, at all. The processing power and manpower to actually mine this data does not yet exist, and if power companies wanted to put this in the pipeline they'd have to spend bazillions of dollars doing so.
    2. The EM radiation emitted by smart meters (especially those in the 900MHz range) is comparable to a cell phone, except for the fact that it's not placed

  • They certainly use excessive spectrum; the 900 mhz versions, for example, tend to be spread spectrum, non sampling; they just start blazing up and down the frequency range. Very unpleasant.

    Still, not harmful.

  • argument as the fear portion of FUD.

    The RF is safe. Any controversy about that is manufactured in PR room, or stupid peoples heads.

    The privacy "concern" is a policy issue. One that is way overrated.

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:33PM (#40529665)
    . . . if you remove them while they are running.
  • My neighbor has a big antenna for his hamm obsession. Is that thing emitting a strong signal than my smart meter? Should I fear and then smote his antenna?
    • by cdrguru (88047)

      My father used to have a Hamm's obsession, but then he got to liking Schlitz better.

  • Problem with California is EVERY THING is unsafe, the should just deem it a waste land cause everything causes cancer in that state

    http://team-fox.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/mcdonalds-warning-sign.jpg [team-fox.net]

  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:37PM (#40529765)
    Cell phone radio waves are used for carrying voice. This means that they are analog in nature and are therefore sine waves. Now sine waves are by their very nature are curved. This means they are easily able to flow over and around DNA and other molecular structures such as proteins. This is not the case for digital computer or in this case Smart Meter WiFi EM radiation. The data computer WiFi radiation carries is digital in nature and therefore only has two values 1 and 0. This means that it is transmitted as a square wave with a flat instead of a curved leading edge. As a result it is not able to easily flow over and around a cell's DNA but rather slams into it at several hundred thousand times a second. This is like a hammer hitting a string of pearls over and over and over. Eventually the pearls and the string will break.
  • by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:37PM (#40529775)

    There's only one thing in this article that seems like a legitimate concern:: the issue with possible incorrect bills and an issue I didn't really see raised: the possibility of unauthorized access/tinkering.

    The lady whose electric bill shot up 300% ... either she was somehow not being billed for the power she used all along, or else the new meter is faulty. THAT is a legitimate concern.

    However, I am sick to death of all these whiny whiners and their "I'm allergic to RF" .. NO. No, you're not. You're not special, you don't have some super power that lets you receive radio waves... you're not experiencing something that science or big business is covering up... you're being hypochondriacs or else you''ve got Munchhausen's syndrome. Either way, you sure as hell don't experience RF sensitivity - not unless you're talking about the power levels inside your microwave oven.

    rabble, rabble!

  • I personally don't see how a smart meter is an invasion of privacy; the power company is the one supplying you with power and should be able to manage their network. If anything the downside to smart meters has been that people who think their environmentally friendly and end up using smart meters, only to find out that their power bill ends up going up, because they're not being as power conscious as they thought they were. This hurts their ego, so they declare an invasion of privacy. Even though I don't t
  • by eagee (1308589) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:37PM (#40529779)
    So, I used to write server software for one of these companies, and I'd say the biggest concern is the corners they're cutting in order to get a product to market. Having an internet aware electricity grid is a terrible, terrible idea, especially when the leaders of these organizations are businessmen/women that don't understand the underpinnings of technology. It isn't a matter of if hackers will eventually be able to monitor, track, and use this information against customers (e.g. Hitting homes that have significant drops in usage while they're out of town) it's when. Furthermore, several of these meters have a remote IP enabled shutoff - can you image the havoc that could be wreaked when the encryption and authentication software in these meters is outstripped by new technologies? This is all worst case scenario stuff, and it isn't like these companies aren't always doing their due diligence; it's just that I feel social engineering and/or actual hacking makes this seem like an inevitable outcome.
  • The article states "[s]ome consumers are worried about radio frequency radiation from the new meters." That's it. No "action groups," not even a sole scientist. Bad bad bad summary.
  • Privacy and Safety (Score:4, Interesting)

    by doas777 (1138627) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:40PM (#40529835)

    Though I have no idea regarding the RF tx concerns, I can speak a little about the privacy implications. first a little reading, Here is a link to the NIST-IR 7628, which describes guidelines for smartgrid security. Volume 2 focuses on privacy impact. http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/focus-on-countries/north-and-south-america-and-the-caribbean/united-states/trends-and-issues-united-states/information-and-communications-technology-united-states/cyber-security-united-states/nistir-7628-guidelines-for-smart-grid-cyber-security.html [vic.gov.au]

    it is already possible with analog meters to identify devices inside a home, simply by sampling the signal at the meter at an interval of less than 2 minutes. the faster the sample the more accurate. by comparing the signals to a database of common electrical devices researchers were able to profile device usage as early as 1992. obviously, up till now, most utilities coudn't afford the staff to sample most lines at that interval however.

    The smart grid exacerbates this privacy issue, because it allows and in fact requires high speed sampling to accommodate Time-Of-Use billing, and because the meters can send usage information to the utility head end effortlessly with no additional cost.

    the real issue with privacy however will not come for a few years: smart appliances. Several EDUs are already selling internet service through their smart meters, but there is effectively no option to firewall this connection as it travels over the power lines and any interference would be felony meter tampering.

    So, imagine 5 years from now, you are buying a new TV. you don;t care about internet connectivity, but the device comes with it embedded, and there are very few options in the TVs menus for configuring it. It uses powerline networking, so in order to just turn it on, you have already connected it to the Internet. At this point, you basically have to trust your TV manufacturer to not report to advertisers what you watch, including stuff like pr0n. with SMART devices you have to trust the manufacture implicitly..

    Another big focus for the smartgrid is Electric Vehicles. The plan at present is to have the car identify itself to the power network, along with its owners billing info, so that wherever you plug in to get a recharge, it appears on your monthly bill. this can easily be used to track you over long periods of time.

    SG meter data can also be used to uncover hidden sources of power generation within your property, so if you hide your usage to maintain your privacy, that will likely be accessible to any adversarial party that requests it.

    So, a well monitored smart meter can be used to tell your schedule, the size of your family, when you are home, when you are away, your approximate worth, enumerate your devices, log how/when/where (in your house) you use them, track your internet usage, how far you travel each day (and possibly where you went), the day of the week you go to the grocery, and what ever any device you plug in decides to send to third parties, all with no indication that anything is happening.

  • The physics (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:40PM (#40529845)

    Let's see:

    Compared to being hit by sunlight:

    param. .Water Meter ..Sun

    energy. ..0.1 watts. .300 watts
    exposure. .1 sec/month .1 hr/day
    photon energy . 6E-25 Joules.. 3E-19 Joules

    Looks to me like that Sun is DANGEROUS, exposing you to about 3,000 times more energy per unit time, for about 110,000 times longer, and with individual photons 500,000 times more energetic.

    The 900MHz radio wave photons are so weak they can't excite any atom to any higher energy level, or cause any kind of chemical change, not by a factor of 1000 or more.

  • by coldsalmon (946941) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:51PM (#40530031)

    The headline ends in a question mark, but the answer is "Yes."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines [wikipedia.org]

  • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:00PM (#40530181)

    One of the things coming with smart meters is differential rates for electricity provided during peak and non-peak hours. I don't see this as a bad thing, but then I don't run an air conditioner. Setting my dishwasher to run after 9:00 am makes sense, for example.

    The idiots prattling about RF sensitivity seem brain damaged to me, but not from RF. Around here they mostly move around in a fog of pot smoke.

  • by FellowConspirator (882908) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:01PM (#40530195)

    Of course there's no dangerous RF. That's just plain stupid.

    However, with regard to invasions of privacy... The meters are capable of reporting daily variations in consumption of electricity. Readable at a distance, a third party could assess when consumption levels are very low (house probably unoccupied) or inconsistently low for several days in a row (occupants probably away on vacation). So, what you basically have is a radio beacon that lights up "Rob us, were out".

    I imagine that this could be fixed if there is a very good encryption and authentication/authorization scheme -- but how likely is that?

  • In the industry (Score:5, Informative)

    by jgorkos (453376) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:07PM (#40530321) Homepage

    Finally, after years of lurking, a subject I can speak with authority on.
    I actually got to speak to a Georgia House committee on the subject of smart meters, since I work for one of the major manufacturers. Here are some of the things I told them...
    Our meters use licensed 900Mhz FSK (not spread spectrum) bursts. An average electric meter transmits 6 times a day with 1 watt EIRP (off a PCB antenna in the meter), in bursts of about 180ms. Total on-air time is nominally 1 second per meter per day.
    As for privacy, we use symmetric AES-256 encryption with per-meter keys for both uplink and downlink to the meters (our meters are twoway-capable). Keys are rotated generally every three months (yes, imagine rotating 4+ million encryption keys every few months, over a system with an aggregate bandwidth of about 12kb/s).
    We sell a "remote-disconnect" option in our meters, but it's expensive and only used by electric companies in limited situations. While we can trigger a remote disconnect, in the interest of safety we cannot re-energize a meter without a very complicated dance. Instead, we send an arm-for-reengize command, and then tell the consumer to take their TV remote control outside and point it at the meter and hit the "POWER" button. An IR receiver in the meter face then causes the meter to re-energize.
    One of the big complaints (after they get past the RF) of the anti-smart meter groups is the use of "dirty switching power supplies". According to the anti-smart-meter web sites, these switching power supplies cause surges on the AC mains, which somehow increase cancer risks up to 13 times. The power supplies in our meters are actually certified under 3 different FCC type ratings, and are somewhere north of 95% efficient buck-boost supplies. Since the load of the metrology and RF boards in the meter is minuscule, smart meters generally only draw milliwatts while running, and the chances of inducing large spikes onto the mains is non-existent.
    I got to meet some of the people behind the anti-smart-meter campaigns. For the most part, they're nice elderly ladies who get their view of the world from Pat Robertson and Fox news. They crave some cause in their life, are experiencing health issues generally related to aging and unhealthy choices, and find any new technology (especially hard-to-understand, mandatory-use technology like smart meters) scary and use it as a good scapegoat for their health worries. Everyone here realizes that a web page is the ultimate printing press, and with enough Googling you can find some "expert" pushing some kind of "science" to support pretty much any view you wish to cling to. It's embarrassingly easy to put together a semi-literate sounding alarmist web page backed up by flaky pseudo-science and gather like-minded people to your way of thinking.

    Bottom line is, as an electrical engineer, an extra class amateur radio operator, and a father, there are about a million things my kids run across every day that are more damaging or dangerous than smart meters. Most of those are naturally occurring (sunlight kills more people in a year via skin cancer than every smart meter I've ever played a part in will kill in a thousand years). If you need something to stress about or blame your poor health or weird medical condition on, please find a better scapegoat than smart meters.

  • by Tweezer (83980) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:12PM (#40530423)

    I think most of the others have already covered the RF side of things, so I'll discuss the privacy aspects. First of all, I do realize the meters have fairly high resolution when it comes to usage so there are some privacy concerns. Keep in mind that just because the meter can tell exactly what channel you are watching in a lab environment, it doesn't work that way in the real world. No utility has the desire to store data at that level of detail. The utility I work for will store data with 1 hour resolution. That means we will know how much power was used during a specific one hour interval. This alone has enormous storage and server requirements. Going to smaller intervals would do nothing for us and compound or storage requirements so it's a non starter. We are a for profit company and have no cost justification for that kind of system. We are also not storing customer information in the same system that we are storing meter data. The system storing meter data will just have a service delivery point so the data can be tied to a customer, but it raises the difficulty level.

    As far a remote shutoff goes we are working very hard to make that system as secure as practical. Those commands will be considered privileged and limited to a small group of people. There will also be limits in place so it's not like I could issue a command to shut off 100,000 customers all at once. The security is being handled in a very similar fashion to how we handle our SCADA security where a couple of key strokes can actually shutoff decent sized parts of the grid in our service territory. Needless to say at my utility we are taking your privacy and security very seriously.

    So in a nutshell with one hour resolution what could someone lean about you? Well your usage patterns would give some stuff away. Probably the same sort of stuff your neighbors already know. Daily habits such as what shift you work and what time you tend to go to bed at night and what time folks get up in the morning. That being said if your utility gives you access to your data via a portal, I would probably use a fairly decent password and not share it with the world.

  • by hughbar (579555) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @01:24PM (#40530653) Homepage
    For me, the real dangers with smart meters, are coupled, big-data style data collection followed by well-targeted demand pricing. Remember the 'concept' Coca-Cola machine that made drinks more expensive when it was hotter?

    Also, and I made a submission in the UK about this, I'd like the raw data stream to be available on the 'consumer' side rather than patronising LCDs with smiley and frowny faces, for example. The UK suppliers currently seem to believe that this is 'their' data exclusively, because, of course, as above, it's very valuable.

    I'm pretty unconvinced that the RF, for example, is worse that all the other techno-**** that we have around us, already.

To the systems programmer, users and applications serve only to provide a test load.

Working...